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Put a lid on it! Lancaster attacks rat problem with garbage patrol

It’s hardly the kind of publicity a community wants.

But in the Village of Lancaster, Jim Smith is now on garbage patrol in the community’s battle against rats.

Smith spent Thursday, his first day on the job, making sure residents follow the village’s garbage ordinance.

“Somebody has to do it. We’ve got to get it done,” said Smith, who was hired Wednesday as a part-time code enforcement officer at $234 per week.

Smith, a Lancaster native who is retired from a job with a meat product supply company, never thought he would be on garbage patrol because of rats. But he said he is glad to help out.

“I love this community and get along with people very well, so it’s a good fit,” said Smith, who will be on patrol Tuesdays through Fridays.

Smith’s first day was a busy one and an eye-opener. He wrote about 30 warning letters to residents in the west section of the village. He said he found that many people put their garbage in bags instead of containers, and many of those who do use garbage cans often do so without any lids.

“I wrote a lot of warning letters,” Smith said.

So far, he said, he has been well-received.

“People have come by and given me the thumbs-up sign,” he said. “We’ve got to get it done.”

Lancaster is in the midst of a debate on rat-resistant garbage totes, which the Erie County Health Department says greatly reduces the prevalence of rodents. But in the meantime, the village has gone on the offensive against rats.

“We might as well acknowledge the problem. We’re not trying to hide it,” Village Trustee William Schroeder said. “It’s something that needs to be done.”

The village’s rules include:

• Garbage must be covered with a lid.

• All trash must be in containers.

• Businesses must ensure that the area around garbage dumpsters is clear and clean, and dumpsters must be covered.

• Animal/pet droppings must be picked up.

First-time offenders will receive a written warning, and a photo will be taken of their garbage violation.

Repeat offenders will face a fine of up to $2,000 and/or 15 days in jail.

“We’re taking aggressive steps now so that the problem doesn’t escalate when the weather gets warmer,” said Deputy Mayor Kenneth O’Brien. “We’re doing it so the problem doesn’t grow any larger, and the rat population will diminish. It has never been this big of an issue as it is today.

“We’re not waiting. Enforcement is a big thing,” O’Brien said of the rat problem, which is growing throughout the village and town. “I don’t want it to get any worse. This is a huge step.”

The village also is taking steps to make residents more aware.

By early next week, a 4-by-8-foot sign will be on display in the heart of downtown.

The sign, “Lid ’Em to Rid ’Em,” will be erected at Central and Broadway, and will list 10 tips on deterring rats. The sign was donated by Adworks, an ad company owned by town Councilwoman Dawn Gaczewski.

“The town fully supports the educational efforts,” she said.

The village also plans to send educational flyers to 3,500 households.

Rat complaints have been increasing for weeks, particularly in the downtown business core.

One resident last month said he has seen rats the size of cats.

Another resident called the village Tuesday about a dead rat on West Pleasant, not far from the Save-A-Lot parking lot. Public Works employees said the rat appeared to have been well-fed, weighing about a pound and measuring 20 inches long, nose to tail.

“We will do whatever it takes to get some control over it,” Schroeder said. “We’re not being overrun, but all of a sudden, there’s a lot of complaints. Jim Smith is going to have his hands full for a while.”

Town leaders are considering garbage totes, which have been successful in several other Erie County communities. The officials are studying the details of their garbage and recycling contract with Waste Management, which includes the village and does not expire until 2019.

Many Waste Management trucks have been retrofitted in the last few years to accommodate handling totes.

“Eventually, I think we’ll go with totes,” O’Brien said, noting that village residents can buy their own totes, but the ultimate decision rests with the town.

“It’s multiple pieces of the pie, and each piece is integral to reduce the rat population.”